In Which An Odd Point Of Elven Common Law Is Expounded Upon
“Is Amaranth going to come back before the dance?” I asked, a little anxiety creeping into my voice. It accomplished this by hiding behind the freaking huge anxiety which rushed in ahead of it.
The evening was wearing on. I was dressed up, made up, and ready to go in every respect except one: actually being ready.
“I don’t think so, hon,” Steff said.
“I thought she might hang out with me, you know… until Ian showed up,” I said.
“What, for immoral support?” Steff said, grinning. “C’mon, do you really want your beautiful, sexy, naked lover standing next to you when this guy shows up?”
“She isn’t naked,” I protested. “She’s a nymph.”
“As such, she does not wear clothes,” Steff said. “Ipso facto, cogito cum gallons, she’s naked.”
“But it isn’t the same thing,” I said. “Yeah, okay, sometimes I’ll be looking at her, or, you know, touching… and I’ll think, ‘Hey… Amaranth is naked.’, but most of the time… I mean, it’s just how she is. Not that she’s not beautiful and sexy, anyway, but… oh, I think I’m explaining this all wrong,” I said, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure there was a right way to explain it. “But a nymph isn’t the same thing as a naked woman.”
“Hon, do you have any idea how rare it is to find somebody who can look at a nymph and even occasionally see a person?” Steff said. “I’ll confess, when Viktor brought her back to our room all I really thought of her was, ‘Oh, she looks fun.'”
“You thought she looked fun?” I asked a little hotly, not completely sure why this offended me.
“At first!” Steff said. “But then she started talking, and it was like, ‘Hey, there’s a brain in there.’ and it turned out we had a lot in common… but most people never get to that stage. To them, a nymph’s mouth is only good for… well, several different things, really, but none of them really involving much in the way of conversation.”
“Well… maybe I’m a little more straight after all, then,” I said.
“Your average straight girl’s even less likely to sit down and chat with a fleshy fertility spirit of the female variety,” Steff said. “Nymphs are more or less doomed to be seen as conquest or competition… that may be why so few of them socialize outside of ‘work’.”
“Amaranth never mentioned that,” I said, though I could see a certain kind of sense to it.
“Oh, Mack, Amy’s never really ran into anything like that yet,” Steff said. “She’s only been here a week, and she spent her whole life before that on some hippy commune in Happy Valley…”
“Paradise Valley,” I corrected her.
“Whatever,” Steff said. “And I’d never say this to the dear thing’s face, but I’d lay odds the situation there wasn’t as rosy as she thinks. She sees herself as a valued contributor to the community, but I bet a good number of the people who lined up to plow her field were just thinking ‘Easy fuck, and it counts as working!'”
“Amaranth would never let herself be… be…” I stopped, the words sticking to the roof of my mouth. Of course she would let herself be used. She’d take pride in it. She’d just never believe that the person doing the using meant anything bad by it.
“Yeah, you can’t finish that sentence, can you?” Steff said. “But she sees the world in her own special way, and there’s no good in pointing it out… she wouldn’t believe you.”
“But, that’s horrible,” I said. “That means they’re exploiting her.”
“Are they? She gets to do what she loves every day of her life, and the hippy farmers make a good living selling an exotic alternative grain,” Steff said. “I think everybody wins.”
“Well, maybe,” I said, though I didn’t really like it. “Anyway, how do you know so much about nymphs?”
“I spent my entire childhood around elven forests,” Steff said. “Places where naiads and dryads still grow… well, still live wild. The elves kind of took their presence in stride… I mean, after you’ve been married to somebody for six or seven centuries, I think you come to appreciate a little variety. But in the human settlements across the border, it was kind of a big, overhyped rite-of-passage kind of thing for the older boys, and for the men… well, they talked about nymphs the way men other places talk about whores, except for extra jokes about nymphs being too dumb to charge.”
“And you were living on the human side,” I said.
“Half the time,” Steff said. “Every other year, actually… it nearly killed my mom to give me up for a whole year at a time, but my dear father insisted any smaller interval of time would be an insult. His oathspeaker–lawyer, basically–originally proposed a compromise where they’d follow the elven custom of shared custody until I reached the age of majority under human law.”
“What’s the elven custom?” I asked.
“The father gets the children for the first quarter of a century, and then the mother gets them for the next one…”
“But the age of majority’s only eighteen,” I said, thinking… hoping, actually… that I was missing something.
“Yeah, my dad’s a real joker,” Steff said. “Well, I’m over eighteen now, which means I never have to see him again… so why am I wasting any thought on him at all? What were even talking about?”
“Um… Amaranth not being here when I meet Ian?” I said.
“Oh, right!” Steff said. “Anyway, I thought it would probably be fairest to all involved if Young Master Ian did not have the sight of Our Miss Amy to distract him from his actual–and very lovely in and of herself–date… or to divert precious blood away from his brain. I mean, you just know the odds are already pretty good that he’s going to end up making an ass of himself anyway, so there’s no sense in stacking the deck against him. And Amy… well, you have to understand, Mack… we both know it’s important to you that this date just be a date and not a whole big extended BDSM scene, but… she…”
“What?” I asked. “She what?”
“Amy’s kind of old-fashioned, in a nymphy sort of way,” Steff said. “She’s got very strong feelings on how a date should go… or rather, how it should end.”
I knew what she was getting at without any additional prompting or hints. I guess that was a sign of progress, but towards what and in which direction, I couldn’t say.
“More nymph propriety,” I said with a sigh.
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s exactly what it is. Nymph propriety. I tried to tell her that nobody ever died of a hard-on and sooner or later everybody goes home with a case of the blues, but I think I just ended up inspiring her to mount–tee hee, by the way–a one-woman crusade to end the epidemic of lonely nights within our lifetime. I told her that she could do that by holding masturbation ‘how-to’ seminars, and, as far as I know, that’s what she’s doing now.”
“You’re joking,” I said.
“Well, maybe about the last part,” Steff said. “But the point is, she’s off doing what she does best instead of here, dropping pointed hints and applying gentle pressure to get you to… well, I’m sure you get the idea. I keep telling her that she has to be careful what she says around you at this stage, but…”
“Oh, come on,” I said. “I’m not so submissive that I’m going to do some guy just to make her feel better.”
“And you wouldn’t feel shitty knowing that she felt bad because you hadn’t done something she wanted?” Steff asked.
“Well… maybe I’d feel bad,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean I’d actually do it.”
“I’d rather avoid you feeling bad, too. Now, of course, if you do feel those certain urges stirring of their own accord, remember: safety first,” Steff said. “You do not let him stick it in you unless he puts a ring on your finger first, and you can count that as an order.”
“Hey, I did go through sex ed, mother,” I said sardonically.
“A class on sex is about as useful as a correspondence course in dragon slaying,” Steff said. “You know how to tell the difference between a ring of protection and something he pulled out of a cereal box?”
“I can detect magic,” I said. “Also, the one from the cereal box will be plastic.”
“Ha ha, Ms. Smarty Thong,” Steff said. “If it is a proper ring of protection, you will feel a cool mist enveloping your fun bits as you slip it on… do not let the momentary numbness sway your mind. It wears off a lot faster than a pregnancy. Also, if he says he can feel a difference, I promise you he is so full of shit that it is not funny. There’s no difference for him.”
“You know, I’m really not planning to fuck Ian,” I said, a little irked at being given this speech. It was my first date… what had I done to convince Steff I was so totally easy that I’d cave to a boy on my first time out?
I mean, aside from everything I’d done in the week since she’d met me…
“I know, I know!” Steff said, throwing up her hands defensively. “But, it’s when you’re not planning it that bad things happen… and even when you are, well… like the saying goes, the best planned lays of mice and men are oft to go astray.” She sighed. “Look, I didn’t want to… well, this was Amy’s idea, but I thought you’d take it as a sign, if not an order, and… well, I don’t know if it’ll do more harm to not…”
“What are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Here,” Steff said simply, holding out a tiny packet with the distinctive circular outline visible within. “If you decide to do anything, put it on, but don’t put it on too early, because it’s rated for an hour but these things are so cheaply made I never feel comfortable too long past thirty minutes, and if you’re just giving head, don’t bother, because you won’t catch anything that way that can’t be cured by a temple novice in a matter of seconds.”
“I’m probably not going to go to a temple for healing any time soon,” I pointed out.
“Oh, right!” Steff said. “I forgot. You know, you should really get one of those healert bracelets, because what happens if you get in an accident and the closest healer is a priest? I know they say arcane healing is more and more common, but there’s still huge parts of the empire where the divine healers pretty much have a monopoly, and all it would take is…”
“Steff!” I said, a little more sharply than I’d meant to. I smiled, more broadly than I felt. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’m sorry… I’m babbling,” Steff said. She started to wring her hands. “I’m just trying to think of everything I wish somebody had told me… well, maybe the part about the healers wouldn’t have really applied, but it’s more the principle, you know? It’s something I’d have wanted to have been told if I had been you instead of…”
“Steff!” I said, laughing now. “I love you, too.”
“Sorry,” Steff said again. “Anyway, just so you know… if this boy hurts you, I’m going to do foul murders on him and feed him to my boyfriend.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll pass that along if he gets fresh… anyway, it’s getting near time. With my luck, he’ll be early… I don’t want to leave him hanging out alone in the lounge… he’ll probably either offend somebody or die of fright.”
“Okay… hey, wait,” Steff said, pulling me in close and turning me around to face the mirror. “Let’s get one last look at you before you go. Damn! I wish I had a camera.”
I’d seen myself, but I hadn’t really looked…. and it was something to see. Steff had done a good job on my make-up, though she might have laid it on a little bit thick in the end… but, given how puffy I’d got from the repeated crying jags, I couldn’t say she’d done more than was necessary.
My eyes were still a little red, but in a weird kind of way, it went with the look. The lipstick she’d picked was a red that was a little bit darker than the red on my top to begin with, and she’d traced my lips with a black pencil that she’d then blended inwards. She’d used way more eyeliner than Mariel had, but I hadn’t flinched half as much. She’d given me her own foundation, which was pale even on my sun-starved skin, and she’d gone a bit overboard on the blush… possibly in an attempt to emphasize what she thought of as my most endearing feature.
Part of me wanted to say that she’d made me look like what most people thought a demon girl should look like… sunken, smoldering eyes inlaid like runes… ghostly white face flush with color from the excitement of the hunt, or the kill…
Part of me just wanted to say that she’d made me look hot.
We hadn’t even touched my hair, except that Steff had wet it a bit in order to keep it out of my face while she did and re-did my make-up. Somehow, every strand seemed to have fallen perfectly in place to be that perfectly out-of-place look that big stars pay big money to achieve.
Or maybe it always looked like that, but I didn’t wear the right clothes to set it off.
You look like such a slut, I thought at the girl in the mirror. She… that is to say, I… looked down at the foil-wrapped ring in my hand.
I shivered. There was a ghost of a whisper of an echo of a trace of another voice beneath my own… Steff’s voice, whispering the same word as it had in the leather store, not as a condemnation so much as a consecration. Slut, slut, slut. It excited me, and frightened me, and made me feel bold. I remembered something else that she’d said once, about how if you couldn’t separate sex from shame, you had to make shame sexy.
I tried to cling to that sound beneath the sound… but my own voice was too loud, and drowned it out.
An ugly word, its sound dripping with corrosive venom.
I could hardly stand. I couldn’t breathe. There was no way I could go downstairs like this… not dressed like a slut. People would see. They’d stare. They’d know… they’d know how dirty I was, how bad, how vile, how nasty, how evil I was.
Just this morning I had lied… I had lied and not been punished, and now here I was in the evening, dressed like a slut and ready to parade my nastiness all over the place, ready to press my body up against some poor unsuspecting boy and… and…
Steff caught me as I started to swoon.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I… can’t…” I said, then abandoned sentences altogether. “Dirty. Bad.” Slut.
She gave a little nod, that I think was meant for herself more than me, and pulled me over to the bed. With more efficiency than gentleness, she had me on her lap, the fishnet tights rolled down, the thong pulled down, and the paddle… the metal-studded leather paddle more than a foot in length… in her hand.
Steff was not Amaranth, and there was no art in her discipline. It was just whack, whack, whack… pain, Pain, PAIN to drive away the slut, Slut, SLUT. I cried out. If there had been tears left in my eyes, I would have wrecked her careful make-up work again.
There was no build up. There was no release. She was just beating back the badness.
I don’t know how she knew when it was gone, but she slowed and then stopped, and I was okay.
“Better?” she asked. She was panting from the exertion.
I nodded. My ass throbbed, far worse than after any mere spanking. I think, in fact, that I was in the most pain I’d ever felt without a holy item being involved somehow, but there was no room for shame within that pain.
She helped me up, and then helped me fix my underthings.
“I think,” I said, realizing the insanity of what I was about to say but unable to stop, “I’d be better if I still had that label on my head, you know? If I had something to remind me… to remind me that I belonged.”
“That you’re loved,” Steff said, and she kissed me on the forehead. She took the leather paddle–which, now that I saw it, looked like nothing so much as a section of a troll warlord’s belt–and fixed it with a bit of cord to the vinyl belt on my skirt. “There,” she said. “You carry that with you, and if anybody asks you what it’s for, you tell them… that way, there’s no chance you can forget.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
“It’s probably about time you got going,” she said. “Are you good on your own now?”
“Save the ‘ma’am’ for your true owner,” Steff said gently. “I’m never more than Steff. ‘Yes, Steff,’ is fine.”
“Yes, Steff,” I said, smiling. “Thank you.”
“Get to it, then,” she said with a grin, slapping me on my aching rear for good measure. “And have a good time!”